Experts believe it is feasible to achieve Sustainable Development Goal of a legal ID for all
It would cost about US$6 billion to roll out a legal identity to the 500 million people in Africa without this provision today, according to a World Bank expert participating in a panel discussion hosted in Washington D.C. by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank. Vyjayanti Desai, from the World Bank’s Identification for Development Initiative, said: “We estimate a back-of-the-envelope calculation for Africa alone, and it would take about US$6 billion in financing, which is not insignificant, but is not insurmountable either. It’s all very doable.” The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 – the right to a legal ID for all by 2030 – is “absolutely achievable,” she added.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has “been asked by the AU (the African Union) to come up with a digital ID, digital trade and digital economy framework to help guide how the continent moves on this issue,” noted Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary of the ECA, according to a report of the event by Biometric Update.com. Songwe said Africa, the continent with the most refugees, has much to gain from comprehensive ID systems: “not only do you make the invisible visible, you give dignity to people,” Songwe noted. “But more importantly, on a continent where we need to grow further, we need to grow faster, we need to be able to use every brain that we have.”
However, Magdi Amin of philanthropic investors the Omidyar Network cautioned that trust in ID schemes, underpinned by a robust legal framework, is essential for their success and for security. “Without data protection, without institutions to govern how this is done … you end up tipping the balance of power between the citizen and the state in ways that may not be very constructive,” he added.
The panellists also highlighted the importance of digital ID as a tool of and driver for development generally. “Digital identity is one of the most important topics of digital development, if not all of development, today,” noted Christopher Burns, director of the Center for Digital Development at USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab.